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Darpan Salutes

Dr. Seema Waghmode

By Garima Goswami, 23 Jul, 2019

    The Woman Changing Lives of Sex Workers and their children

    Dr. Seema Waghmode is one of the many activists working to rescue and rehabilitate women and children’s lives affected by the sex trade industry in India. In 1993, she began her work in Budhwar Peth in Pune. With hundreds of brothels housing thousands of sex workers, Budhwar Peth has earned the reputation of becoming India’s third largest red-light district*. Over the years, the area has undergone a significant change with Dr. Waghmode’s support. Through her organization, Kayakalpa, the activist provides skills training to sex workers; instills in them a robust understanding of rights, government policies and programmes; and provides a formal learning environment for sex workers’ children.

    In 1993, when conversations surrounding sexually transmitted diseases left the confines of closed doors and made an appearance in public advertisements, Dr. Waghmode took on the task of working with commercial sex workers. In an interview with media, she spoke about her work saying, “We’ve never accepted commercial sex workers as a part of our community. People just don’t want to help them out. They think, ‘It’s not like they stay on the streets.’ Little do they know that these women do not stay in the red-light area out of their own free will. Once they come here, they cannot run away. I’ve heard with my own ears children of these women saying, ‘Ma, I’m hungry. Why don’t you take in customers?’ With that, I decided that I just had to take these children out of here. We don’t separate the children from their mothers. But we just want them to be far away from these areas”

    Red-light districts of a scale like Budhwar Peth are exclusive to a segregated client and service-based demographic. For forced sex workers, exclusion from mainstream public life leads to lack of trust, confidence and skills to assimilate back in. Dr. Waghmode talks extensively about building trust with sex workers. She tells media in an interview, “Building that trust was one of the most difficult challenges, and initially, the sex workers would not even allow me inside their homes. But then I realized that I had not gone through the trauma they had and that too in a tender age.” Albeit it took time, but when she did, she used this trust well. Kayakalpa has impacted more than 10,000 lives so far. In 2004, Dr. Waghmode was rewarded the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation’s six-year funding supporting projects targeting sexually transmitted infections and targeted intervention.

    With the support of international societies, Kayakalpa has evolved to grow into a major organization, Seema’s Project – Step Towards Life. On her website, Dr. Waghmode mentions, “While working with Kayakalpa in the red-light area of Budhwar Peth, Pune, I came close to several problems in the life of FSWs (forced sexual workers). Among all problems one problem that moved me to the core [was] children of FSWs who often remain ignored and neglected by the government policies, educational institutions, and from the mainstream society.” And this is the problem she is working to resolve.

    Currently, Dr. Waghmode’s organization houses 35 rescued children. Her organization also does health checkups, arranges counselling sessions, distributes condoms and educates children. To support and learn more about her organization, visit, www.seemasproject.org.

    *Data sourced from Wikipedia

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